The past few weeks have spiraled for me, and catching my breath seemed unrealistic. But a friend has given me a new approach to test for a while, and there’s a chance I won’t be struggling, chest-deep in mud much longer.
The panic lately of the mounting lists and tasks and projects and work and solo parenting have felt a lot like I’ve always supposed quicksand would feel: doesn’t matter how often I’m told to stay calm to ensure my survival, I claw and scratch and flail and scream to get to whatever I imagine dry land would be. I do emergencies very well, unless the emergency requires ignoring all the impulses of adrenaline.
Adrenaline feeds most of my days, and has since high school. Adrenaline wakes me with a slap and barks to all my muscles that it’s time to do. Accomplish. Hustle. Adrenaline gets me to each of the days’ moments just on time, if not a few seconds before. Adrenaline tells me not to sleep so I can finish a few more tasks, including daunting tasks that are rarely of the “just a few more minutes” variety.
Lately it takes more and more to elicit that adrenaline. Deadlines don’t impress me; I just parcel out the work and accomplish in bite-sized chunks without any terror. The thought of being late does little; I just walk in slow motion through jello starting a few minutes earlier. The physical need for a run can’t pry me out of my chair. In fact, the only thing that makes me quicken my pace even slightly is sibling bickering. And after years of trying to manage that, I almost don’t care anymore. I have no sympathy for either of those children, who insist on teasing and encroaching and generally menacing each other despite everything I’ve tried thus far.
And this worries me. A lot.
So I cobble together new approaches and find new ways to motivate myself. But I feel I’ve lost my way. I’ve worn myself down to a nub over the past decade, and my to-do list continues to grow while the day seems to shrink. I found an old list from last summer, and 22 of the 49 items on my list from last year are still waiting to be done. Someone joked that I needed shorter lists. Or a way to notice the 25 things I confidently cross of the list every single day.
I don’t know how to do either of those: shorter lists or feeling accomplished. Because everything left on those lists is important. Four journal articles, representing hundreds of hours of work, just languish, needing a few hours of edits each and then the honor of submission. Thousands of photos endured being pared down to dozens, but now need to be uploaded and made into photo albums for the grandparents. FSA forms pace across my desk impatiently, waiting for receipts and explanations and 57-point-checklists before releasing the money I paid almost a year ago. Summer glares at me from almost-full camps and annoyingly-paced flights, and cackles at my inability to commit six months early.
And I’m baffled at myself, since I’ve always self-defined as driven to produce and accomplish…why can’t I focus on the big picture? Where’s the vim? The vigor? I feel as though I’m moving through coagulated blood, slogging, vaguely nauseated, from one task to another. Every non-work task feels like a burden. (I know I’m not depressed because work is still fun.)
So I make schedules of how to tackle the tasks I continually punt. But I’ve honed my efficiency pretty well over the past few decades, and I’m making the most of my time. After accomplishing what I consider the bare minimum each day, there are maybe 15 minutes left.
How the hell do I prep articles for submission to peer-reviewed journals with 15 minutes a day? How do I rework a novel in 15 minute increments? How do I learn the piano, make photo albums, plan summer camp, bake, do yoga, write up a separation agreement, and sell my wedding china on ebay with only 15 minutes a day?
The answer came from a friend after we saw The Theory of Everything this weekend.
She suggested that for everything task I sign up for, I’m choosing something lame over the important things.
Sure, on paper, but, but, but…
She suggested that making myself crazy with tasks to ensure a steady flood of adrenaline short circuits my brain.
Oh, come on….
She suggested that there’s plenty of time to do things later.
Oh, no, no, no, nononononono no. Just saying the words, “There’s plenty of time” made me physically panic. Sweat, twitchy muscles, racing heart.
“But I have to get the photo albums out!”
No. You don’t. There’s plenty of time.
“But the school needs better emergency preparedness and the teachers need reviews and my portfolio needs…”
There’s plenty of time.
“But I need to search Instructables with the kids and find projects for the next time I remember to plan a playdate.”
Please. Stop. There’s plenty of time.
I know that each yes means saying no to myriad things, so by definition the yeses should be to important tasks. I know that each moment is fleeting and that choosing how to spend them needs to feed either my family, my soul, or my work.
I know that intellectually. But my body craves long lists at which I’m failing, so I can adrenalize myself into action.
The problem is that to synthesize that adrenaline, I’m filling all the spaces with tasks that are basically crap. Not the play, the joy, the work. Probably only 40 of 49 things on the list are crap.
That’s a lot of crap, y’all.
My mantra this month is “There’s Plenty of Time.” I shoved all the papers on my desk into a box, sparing the tax documents for a special folder placed in a drawer for next month, and the two handwritten letters from New York friends to whom I want to reply.
Tonight I’m writing a blog post. If I feel like it. If not, there’s plenty of time another day.
I won’t put anything else on the list, because there’s plenty of time to do everything another day.
(I winced as I typed that, and felt twitchy. But I won’t delete it.)
Speaking of things that had to get done today, look at what the world around me did today.
Yep. Jasmine, plum blossoms, and daffodils. That’s what the Bay Area does in February. Overachievers, the lot of ‘em.